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Judge allows Rutzler take South Toms River council seat

Democrat led Republican Sanford Ross by two votes after recount

By Nikita Biryukov, January 05 2021 2:47 pm

An Ocean County Superior Court judge ruled a Democrat who won a council seat in South Toms River by two votes following a recount can be sworn in tomorrow, but there’s no guarantee he’ll get to keep the seat.

Judge Arnold Goldman ruled the Ocean County Board of Elections acted correctly when it rejected two ballots bearing votes for Republican Councilman Sanford Ross because the voters signed the ballot.

Ross initially tied Democratic Councilman-elect George Rutzler, 772-772. The recount brought the margin to 772-770, in the Democrat’s favor.

Matthew Moench, Ross’s attorney, said those votes should be reinstated, arguing the statute, which bars any markings that can be used to distinguish a ballot, was meant to preserve ballot secrecy. Because the voters made the markings themselves, he said, they shouldn’t be disqualified.

Brian White, arguing for Rutzler, said Moench’s claims that the markings were made accidentally and without fraudulent intent were unsupported by testimony. The judge agreed.

“What’s being asked of the court is that I should denigrate the statute without a hearing, without any testimony and just say ‘in my opinion, they’re wrong for that,’” Goldman said.

The saga isn’t over yet. Both parties have launched broader election challenges. The Democrats seek to reinstate three ballots rejected for lacking certifications. Per a brief filed by White, those voters were never given the chance to cure their ballots, as required by state law.

Ross’s petition challenges another 26 ballots, claiming the voters who cast them did not live in South Toms River at the time of the election or lacked valid residential addresses in the town.

The court will tackle those questions in a full hearing set for Feb. 22. Should that hearing change the results in Ross’s favor, Rutzler’s certificate of election will be revoked.

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